Skip to main content

Polar Bear

Tom Mangelsen

A symbol of the Arctic, polar bears are the world’s largest land predator and biggest member of the bear family. With heavy fur, blubber up to four inches thick and black skin that absorbs heat from the sun, polar bears are amazingly well adapted to the Arctic climate. Denning females spend long periods of time largely immobile without eating or drinking, yet they do not lose bone mass or suffer from lack of water. Scientists believe that understanding polar bears may hold the key to treating many diseases.

Climate Change Impacts

Sadly, polar bears may be one of the first species lost in a warming world. These magnificent animals are facing unprecedented threats as a warming climate and loss of their sea ice habitat make it more difficult for the bears to hunt prey like seals and find dens for their cubs. Though polar bears are well adapted to extended fasts, they can only survive without food for so long. Since polar bears have evolved to live in the extreme conditions of the Arctic, even minor climate changes could profoundly impact the species.

What’s happening now

What’s happening now: Although polar bears received Endangered Species Act protection in 2008, the federal government is still failing to stop oil and gas activities in two of the Arctic’s most important polar bear habitats – the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas. If an oil spill were to happen in these waters, it could lead to many wildlife casualties since there is no sure way to clean up a spill in icy waters. Earthjustice and our partners have successfully prevented Shell Oil from drilling in the Chukchi in 2014 by challenging its drilling leases, but a more permanent solution will be needed if the Arctic is to remain prime habitat for polar bears.